By Bala Sai:
“Losing your child creates everlasting sadness. It is intensely painful. I think if I had met Sunita earlier my child would be alive. It makes me extremely sad to think about it.”
Shilpi is 24-year-old. Her story begins in Shahdara, one of the oldest suburbs of Delhi where she lived with her husband and mother-in-law. Coming from their native village, they made their home in the heart of India, in a city that promised a future. However, in the darkness of assumptions and ignorance, Shilpi and her family did not see that they were but a little nest lying on the ground, left unprotected by the shade of India’s healthcare system. When the scorching heat finally dawned on them, it was already too late.
When Shilpi was pregnant with her second child, she thought she knew what to expect. Her first pregnancy had had no complications, and the baby was delivered at home by a midwife. Hence she continued following the traditional birthing practices her mother had taught her. But at a certain point she knew that this time something was wrong. She was having severe blood loss and could not understand why.
“I told my mother-in-law, but she wouldn’t pay much attention. She told me to eat this or that and I would get better. But it didn’t help me at all and my condition deteriorated day by day.”
She inched closer and closer to the threshold of danger, unknowingly developing severe internal bleeding that could eventually prove fatal. Shilpi knew she needed medical attention, but her mother-in-law wouldn’t hear of it. She was not allowed to step out of the house. That was when she contacted Sunita, a community health volunteer with Save The Children, and bid her to come visit at home.
“I told Sunita everything about the situation and she took me to the doctor. I had absolutely no blood in my body by then. The doctor gave me an injection and I fainted right there. They admitted me and gave me four bags of blood. My child passed away. It was six and half months old.”
It was a shock that rattled the household; the ultimate price they had paid for their ignorance. Sunita then had a talk with Shilpi’s family, explaining to them that if they had sought medical assistance earlier, the child could have lived.
Shilpi’s story is not an isolated one. Infant mortality rate in India stands at an appalling 41 infant deaths per 1000 live births. Every day, more than 4000 children below the age of 5, die in India; mostly from preventable causes. 48% of our children are severely malnourished. According to UNICEF, a quarter of the world’s neo-natal deaths occur in India – more than any other country in the world. In other words, every fourth still-born child is Indian.
According to a new study published by Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, maternal health in India is at a disastrous low. 20% of the world’s women who die from pregnancy everyday are Indian. More than 40% of the women in India are underweight during the onset of pregnancy; a crucial factor that determines the health of the child. In comparison, only 16.5% women in sub-Saharan Africa suffer a similar plight.
In other words, a child raised in India is far more likely to be malnourished than one from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe or Somalia, which are some of the world’s poorest countries. India, in the recent years, has taken great strides in the fields of medicine and healthcare, which makes the current situation all the more baffling.
The major reasons for this horrid plight of the children of our country are a severe lack of hygiene, absence of awareness regarding medical facilities and the shortfalls of medical infrastructure and its accessibility. More of than half of Indian women give birth in the absence of a skilled birth attendant and the chances of survival increases five times if a trained health worker is within reach. Even though child mortality and maternal mortality are considered some of the most powerful barometers of a country’s economic development, our policies pay no heed to the worsening situation. This year’s budget has set aside a meagre 1.06 per cent of our GDP, which leaves only 5.1 doctors per 1000 people; this can only strain the already crippled healthcare system.
When Shilpi conceived her third child, she knew what to do. She had learned from her past mistakes.
“I know now that during pregnancy, women should get all their injections- they should take iron, calcium medication and should take care of themselves. I would go to the mobile clinic for medications, and the doctor would perform check-ups. At that time I had high blood deficiency too. Because the clinic came here, it really helped me a lot. So when my third child was born, I didn’t even need blood. Everything was good and normal.”
Unfortunately, Shilpi and her family had to undergo the trauma of losing a child before they realized the necessity of proper healthcare.
“My son is seven months old, his name is Yash. He is healthy and his coming into the family has made me happy, his father happy, everybody happy. With so many problems, everybody’s point of view has changed after meeting Sunita. I have big dreams for my child. I wish he grows up to be a doctor. But whatever he decides to become, I hope he makes us proud”, she concludes.